MobileMuster is the Australian mobile phone industry’s official product stewardship program. It is a free mobile phone recycling program that accepts all brands and types of mobile phones, plus their batteries, chargers and accessories. Basically, it’s the industry’s way of ensuring mobile phone products don’t end up in landfill – but instead are recycled in a safe, secure and ethical way.
So why is this important? Well, over 90% of the materials used in a mobile are recyclable and can be reused, avoiding future greenhouse gas emissions, saving energy, protecting our environment and conserving scarce natural resources.
Mobile phone components should also never be thrown into the rubbish, where they can end up in landfill. For one thing they are not biodegradable, so they will not break down. On top of that, mobiles contain some substances that can potentially harm the environment if not disposed of correctly.
At MobileMuster, we aim to make sure mobiles are handled properly at the end of their useful lives. Our mission is simple. We promise to keep mobile phones out of landfill. All we are asking you to do is to promise to recycle them.
How to recycle
MobileMuster works with partners like mobile phone retailers, local councils and Australia Post to collect phones from the general public. We encourage people to return their old phones, either by dropping them off or posting them to us. Either way, it is free for consumers, schools, businesses, councils and government agencies.
Each and every mobile we receive is dismantled and recycled, and any data left on the handset is destroyed through the recycling process.
What to recycle
The team behind MobileMuster
MobileMuster is a not-for-profit program, voluntarily funded by industry groups including:
· handset manufacturers (Microsoft, Motorola, Samsung Electronics, HTC, Huawei, ZTE)
· network carriers (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone)
· service providers (Virgin Mobile)
· distributors (Force Technology)
MobileMuster is managed by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) on behalf of these members.
What makes MobileMuster different?
It is the only recycling program that is:
· funded and managed by the industry
· endorsed by mobile phone manufacturers and network carriers
· dedicated to keeping old mobiles out of landfill.
MobileMuster accepts all brands of mobile phones, including their batteries, chargers and accessories. All components are recycled locally or in developed countries overseas – and none are sold for reuse or exported to developing countries.
At MobileMuster we also report annually on our collections and recycling processes, which are audited by an independent third party.
What the TCT thinks about MobileMuster
MobileMuster has its limitations but it does appear that it honestly does what it claims. It could and should aim higher.
MobileMuster’s key claims are that ‘We promise to keep your old mobiles out of landfill’ and that ‘over 90% of the materials used in a mobile are recyclable and can be reused’.
These are admirable goals. It is good to keep mobile phones – especially the batteries – out of landfill and it is better to reuse the materials, including some very valuable metals, rather than extract more of these resources. Encouraging disposal of phones, in particular the batteries, via MobileMuster also prevents people storing them in their homes and other unacceptable places.
MobileMuster is not a reuse program. In fact the advertising material promises that no mobile phones or accessories are reused. While this presumably safeguards personal information stored on phones, it precludes many useful pieces of technology being reused. Some perfectly functioning and reasonably modern phones are simply discarded in favour of new phones.
It could be argued that this approach discourages reuse and encourages purchase of new phones and it is fair to assume that this is in the interests of the mobile phone industry.
Is there anywhere we can safely (both in terms of our private information and the environment) take or send unwanted but functioning phones to be reused?
The benefits of recycling are over-stated. MobileMuster promotional material (see below) includes the claim that recycling of phones and batteries is important because it is ‘avoiding future greenhouse gas emissions’. Research by the Australian Battery Industry Association Ltd shows that for smaller hand-held batteries, recycling may use more energy than production of new batteries; but also that there are other very important reasons why batteries should be recycled, including to prevent ecological and human health damage due to unsafe disposal of batteries. We would like to see MobileMuster amend its messages to reflect these facts.
MobileMuster does not accept non-mobile batteries. This is a great limitation of the program. We know from the battery industry’s own research that Australians consume large numbers of other types of small hand-held batteries which are not safely disposed of or recycled e.g., the type used in torches, radios and smoke detectors. For further information regarding battery consumption and disposal see the 2010 report ‘Analysis of battery consumption, recycling and disposal in Australia: Executive Summary’, by Australian Battery Recycling Initiative and Warnken Industrial and Social Ecology Pty Ltd – available at http://www.batteryrecycling.org.au/resources/abri-publications/page/3
A newsletter on the Tasmanian Environment Protection Authority website states that a broader battery stewardship program is being planned by the Australian battery industry and we hope to bring news of this in the future